Official Tennessee COVID response: No Masks, just Prayer and Fasting


The title above sounds like satire. Sadly it is ever so real. The Republican Governor of Tennessee, Bill Lee, has announced this …

That whooshing sound was the concept of a wall of separation between church and state flying off over the horizon.

If he is going to do this there there are a couple of options that Gov Bill Lee might actually like to consider such as …

  • A day of Prayer and Masking
  • A day of remembrance for those who have died from a wholly preventable disease due to his incopentence

He does acknowledge that … “we’re facing a significant challenge in our hospitals as a result of the increase in COVID cases.“. I do have to wonder if it is actually possible that he even grasps how his anti-mask policy, which includes his executive order that explicitly overrode mask mandates by schools and health boards, contributed to this?


To be wholly clear here. He himself is vaccinated, and he does quietly encourage others to be vaccinated. For that I can tentatively applaud him. However, he is wholly opposed to vaccine mandates and even his pro-vaccine stance is buried in the small-print, he is not exactly shouting about it. When vaccinated, he kept that very quiet, and only admitted it when asked by journalists.

When the department of health in Tennessee proposed to reach out to teenagers to suggest that they could be vaccinated, Lee stepped in and blocked them from doing that. In July he then took it all a step further and fired the state’s vaccine chief, Michelle Fiscus for the “crime” of promoting the vaccine.

What is happening now is that COVID has surged in Tennessee. In a state where currently only 45% are fully vaccinated this is inevitable.

His “solution” is to now have yet another day of prayer and fasting next Monday (Oct 11).

One interesting question to ponder over is to wonder if prayer actually works. While those that believe are sure it does, are there any independently verifiable studies that have looked to see if it really does work.

I might not believe it does, but if it really does, then I should not be criticising him.

Scientific Studies of Prayer

There have been many studies over the years. Some are deeply dubious and deliberately fraudulent, others are simply shoddy because they don’t have proper scientific controls, so we can ignore all those. What is of interest are those that are indeed scientifically robust.


An example of a good study is the 2005 MANTRA (Monitoring and Actualisation of Noetic Trainings) II study run by Duke University. This looked at a range of different intercessions such as intercessory prayer and other healing practises such as Music, Imagery, and Touch (MIT). During the three year period it ran for they deployed both prayer and MIT to about 748 cardiology patients using rigorous scientific protocols and ended up with null results.

The authors of the study noted ..

Neither masked prayer nor MIT therapy significantly improved clinical outcome after elective catheterization or percutaneous coronary intervention.

You can find the paper for this study via PubMed: Music, imagery, touch, and prayer as adjuncts to interventional cardiac care: the Monitoring and Actualisation of Noetic Trainings (MANTRA) II randomised study


Another good example is the 2006 “Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer” (STEP), also commonly called the “Templeton Foundation prayer study” because they funded it. It was also commonly referred to as the “Great Prayer Experiment”. This was quite a rigorous investigation that was led by Harvard professor Herbert Benson. Starting with 1,802 coronary artery bypass surgery patients at six hospitals, they randomly split them into three groups and proceeded as follows:

  • Both Groups 1 and 2 were advised that they might or might not be prayed for, but only those in Group 1 were actually prayed for .
  • Group 3 were told that they would definitely be prayed for and they were.
  • The congregations of three Christian churches (two Catholic and one Protestant) were then asked to pray for specific named prayer subjects in their own manner, but were also instructed to include the following phrase in their prayers: ‘for a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications’

What happened?

Major complications and thirty-day mortality occurred in 52 percent of those who received prayer (Group 1), 51 percent of those who did not receive it (Group 2), and 59 percent of patients who knew they would receive prayers (Group 3).


It has been speculated that the results of Group 3 may have been stress related. When told they would be prayed for, individuals may have begin to think “am I so sick they had to call in their prayer team?

What is completely clear from this study, along with many other similar studies, is not only that prayer simply does not work, but also that those who were not prayed for did a lot better.

Again via PubMed, here is a link to the paper: Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: a multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer

But But But …

Yes, I know, this will not convince those that sincerely believe it really does work. The above was simply for those interested to know if there was any truly objective data.

Immediate thoughts that enable such evidence to be dismissed will usually be one of these …

  • The bible says not to conduct such tests – “Do not Test the Lord your God…” Deuteronomy 6:16. Well yes, but it also says “Test the spirits” 1 John 4:1, so take your pick, because whatever you think, you will find a bible verse to back you up.
  • Those praying were not “real” Christians/Born Again/Spirit Filled, etc… In other words, Schrödinger’s Christians. They are “Christian” when needed to establish a claim that there are large numbers of Christians, but also at the same time are deemed to be “Not Christians” when faced with studies like this.
  • A thought that goes like this may also arise – “I have a personal example of answered prayer and it is …“. Well yes, some may sincerely be sure of this, but that is wholly subjective.
  • Etc…

Belief is basically a human emotional experience. An analytical approach will not in any way decouple the bond to it.

My point is this, there is no objective evidence that prayer works, but despite that, those that believe it works will generally continue to believe that, even when faced with a lack of any evidence.

Why is Bill Lee calling for Prayer?

As a politician in a deeply red Bible Belt state, he has lots of supporters who are religious, hence calling for prayer very much panders to those beliefs and earns him support at the ballot box.

I honestly don’t know if he is being sincere or if it is simply political theatre. I do lean towards the latter.


If he was indeed a truly sincere follower of Jesus, then he would pay attention to the explicit instructions given by Jesus …

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 

Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Matthew 6:5-8

What will they Pray for next Monday?

Meanwhile, you do have to wonder (to quote the bible) what these hypocrites will actually pray for.

The availability of a vaccine that works is there, so praying for that would be pointless. If they pray for everybody who has not yet got COVID and refuses the vaccine to be kept safe, then that is literally akin to vigorously praying to win the lottery and then refusing to actually buy a lottery ticket.

Well yes, that’s bad metaphor. The vaccine is not a lottery, it has been robustly tested and demonstrated to work.

Their best play is to perhaps pray for a new Governor, one that will not botch the response to the pandemic. Unfortunately, even doing that would create the illusion of doing something while doing absolutely nothing meaningful. That however is the nature of such political theatre.

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